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Already layed Stumbling Stones
Else (Elsa) Dessau (née Wolff) * 1898
Rutschbahn 39 (Eimsbüttel, Rotherbaum)
further stumbling stones in Rutschbahn 39:
Elsa Dessau, née Wolff, born on 21 Jan. 1898 in Celle, deported on 6 Dec. 1941 to Riga-Jungfernhof, murdered there
Heinz Dessau, born on 13 Apr. 1930 in Hamburg, deported on 6 Dec. 1941 to Riga-Jungfernhof, murdered there
Elsa was born as the youngest child of Anna (née Cussel) and Michael Wolff in Celle. Her father (born on 11 Mar. 1854) was a native of Friedrichstadt in Schleswig-Holstein, her mother (born on 14 Feb. 1857) of Celle. Elsa had seven siblings, three sisters and four brothers. The oldest was Bella (born on 10 Apr. 1885), followed by Julius (born on 9 Aug. 1886), Willi (born on 5 Apr. 1888), Adolf (born on 22 Oct. 1891), Paula (born on 14 Jan. 1893), Johanna (born on 3 Apr. 1896), and Georg (born on 29 Sept. 1894).
The father, Michael, was simply called Max among family members. He worked as a slaughterhouse supervisor in Hannover, though he lost this position after the start of the First World War. On 12 Apr. 1915, the Wolff couple moved to Hamburg with Paula and Elsa, for Max hoped to find a new job there. However, this failed to materialize, and he had to be supported by his adult children from then on. Nothing is known about Elsa’s childhood. As a young woman, she learned the tailor’s trade. The family lived in Hamburg in straitened circumstances. On 3 June 1928, Elsa’s mother Anna died in the Israelite Hospital in Hamburg.
Even at a young age, Elsa underwent medical treatment for having had "weak nerves.” One doctor apparently advised her to get married, as "she would then do better with her nerves.” On 31 Oct. 1929, she married John Dessau (born on 16 Oct. 1895), a tailor. The couple moved to Rutschbahn 39. John Dessau had been unemployed since 12 Dec. 1927. Therefore, he applied for welfare assistance on 23 Feb. 1928. In Sept. 1930, their son Heinz was born. Immediately afterward, John Dessau went "on his travels,” in order to find a job somewhere. He broke off all contact to his wife and child. For her part, Elsa, left to fend for herself in Hamburg, then applied for welfare assistance as well. She never heard anything of her husband anymore and all police inquiries came to nothing. Nevertheless, she refused to get a divorce. She moved back in with her father and her sister Paula to Grindelhof 89, rear building 2 on the second floor.
In a medical certificate dated 9 Apr. 1931, Elsa Dessau is described as being 1.69 meters (approx. 5 ft 6 in) in height and weighing 54 kilograms (approx. 119 lbs). Her patient file was extensive. According to the physicians, she suffered from psychoses and "nervous physical exhaustion,” thus rendering her unfit for work. She was no longer able to work as a tailor and could barely help her sister manage the household. In the apartment on Grindelhof, the three adults lived together with little Heinz on Paula Wolff’s salary, which she earned as a sales assistant at the Karstadt Department Store. Added to this were welfare benefits from Elsa.
In May 1933, Paula lost her job for "racial reasons.” The family then moved to Rutschbahn 39. They rented out two rooms of the new three-and-a-half-bedroom apartment. By this time, social workers constantly visited the family at home, since Elsa and Heinz in particular were in need of assistance. They noted that Elsa was restless and lacked concentration, deeming her to have suicidal tendencies. As early as 1932, Elsa had attempted to commit suicide by gassing herself.
The one who suffered most in this situation was son Heinz. Certainly, the social workers emphasized that Elsa did not lack love and good will; however, they argued, she was nevertheless unable to care for her son Heinz or have him around all day. Thus, even at the age of a few months, Heinz spent several days a week in a day nursery or "infant’s home” (Säuglingsheim), respectively, later in the daycare center of the Jewish Community at Johnsallee 54. There he received three meals a day, the cost of which (25 reichpfennigs a day) was covered by welfare services. Starting on 12 Jan. 1936, Heinz lived in the Paulinenstift while his mother at times was a patient at the Friedrichsberg mental institution. At the request of his mother, he returned to the family in April. That year, he was also enrolled at the Talmud Tora School.
On 25 Sept. 1936, Heinz was given a legal guardian, Ludwig Freudenthal from the Jewish Community. By then, Heinz lived in the Paulinenstift, repeatedly spending several days with the family. His grandfather Max wished for him to move into the Paulinenstift for good, arguing that this "back and forth” was not good for him. In the meantime, welfare services recruited Elsa to perform compulsory labor required for welfare recipients.
Elsa’s older sister Paula married the unemployed Otto Behr in 1937, leaving the apartment on Rutschbahn, which meant Elsa had to live in the apartment by herself with her 83-year-old father and her six-year-old son (whenever he happened to stay with her) and take care of the household, which was too much for her to handle, worsening her condition again. Under the circumstances, luck was on her side when she became entangled in a conflict during compulsory labor duty in Oct. 1939, leaving her station uttering, "The war will destroy all of you.” A "German national comrade” ("Volksgenosse”) also enlisted for compulsory labor took offense to that and slapped her in the face. Her exclamation could have seen her ending up before court or directly in a concentration camp. However, since the supervisor intervened and admonished the ruffian, a resulting report only reached welfare services, which did not forward it to the police/Gestapo, instead reprimanding Elsa by letter. In this way, further sanctions were not imposed.
In 1939/1940, the Nazi state divested itself of the obligation to provide social welfare assistance to Jewish men and women, imposing that task on the Jewish communities. From that side, Elsa Dessau henceforth received 27 RM (reichsmark) a month in support payments. She was not recruited to perform compulsory labor anymore because by then she had to nurse her seriously ill father and care for ten-year-old Heinz.
She was not able to continue residing on Rutschbahn, instead having to relocate to Bundesstrasse 35, a "Jews’ house” ("Judenhaus”). By that time, Heinz lived at Papendamm 3, a boys’ orphanage. Mother and son were deported along with Elsa’s brothers Georg and Willi to Riga-Jungfernhof on 6 Dec. 1941. None of them returned.
Her father, Michael/Max, was deported on 15 July 1942, at the age of 88, to the ghetto in Theresienstadt and on 21 Sept. 1942 further from there to the Treblinka extermination camp, where he was murdered. After the war, Elsa Dessau’s sisters Johanna and Paula initiated proceedings for restitution, in the course of which Elsa was declared dead as of 8 May 1945. The two sisters had emigrated to Britain, surviving the Holocaust there. Elsa’s husband John, whom she never saw again, was deported on 5 June 1942 from France to Auschwitz and murdered there on 2 Aug. 1942.
Translator: Erwin Fink
Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.
Stand: April 2018
© Karolin Harder
Quellen: StaHH, 351-11-10245, Wiedergutmachungsakte Willy Wollf; ebd., 351-11-13693 Wiedergutmachungsakte Adolf Wolff; ebd., 351-11-16886 Wiedergutmachungsakten Georg Wolff; ebd., 351-11-639, Fürsorgeakte Michael Wolff; ebd., 332-5-940, 235/1928, Sterbeurkunde; Scheffler, Wolfgang/Schulle, Diana: Buch der Erinnerungen. Die ins Baltikum deportierten deutschen, österreichischen und tschechoslowakischen Juden, Band II: München 2003. S. 609; www.bundesarchiv/gedenkbuch; http://www.uke.de/kliniken/psychiatrie/index_15716.php; Benzian, Gertrud: Gertrud Bezian und das Paulinenstift (1920–1934). In: Wamser, Ursula/Weinke, Wilfried (Hrsg.): Ehemals in Hamburg zu Hause. Jüdisches Leben am Grindel. Fulda: VSA-Verlag 1991, S. 58.